Like any aspect of an expat experience, working abroad comes with its own set of culture shock. German work culture, in general, is quite different from anything in the States, but what I found more surprising were more the differences in approach to work and employment between the U.S. and Germany. For those Americans considering working abroad in Germany, I’ve rounded up five of my biggest eyebrow-raisers.
6 Things to Know About Working Abroad in Germany
Check your visa options
Different visas come with different benefits—and your HR department might not know those differences. Before you accept an offer, make sure you’re at least a little familiar with the visa options available to you. An EU Blue Card, for example, is available to employees with “special skills”, a salary above a specific point, and/or a Master’s degree, and lets you apply for a settlement permit in 33 months rather than five years.
German taxes are going to take about half your paycheck
This is a really important thing to factor in when you’re negotiating your contract, searching for an apartment, and planning your budgets. As soon as you get an offer letter, or as you are considering your proposed salary range, make sure you crunch your numbers in a wage calculator. This really excellent tool to help me estimate how much my actual take-home pay (Netto) would be, which in turn helped me be realistic about how much I could afford on rent and life.
No two weeks notice
It’s important to know that most German contracts have a significant notice period. For my first job, the notice period was three months from the end of the month (so, if you quit on April 1, your last day would be the end of July). Your new job will likely be accommodating of this since it’s common practice. But if you’re taking a job “just to get in the door” or hop the pond, it’s good to keep in mind that it can be harder to jump ship on a crap job in Germany.
If you’re taking a job “just to get in the door” or hop the pond, it’s good to keep in mind that it can be harder to jump ship on a crap job in Germany.
It’s also common in Germany to do fixed-length contracts, rather than open-ended ones. Even if you’re hired for what seems like a perm-based position, your contract might only be good for a year. Make sure you pay attention to this, as your visa is tied to the length of your employment contract. While it can be the case that your employer will simply renew your contract at the end of the year, it could also be the case that your contract terminates. Have a back-up plan in place just in case.
Healthcare is a given
Coming from America, having some form of social healthcare has completely changed my life—and I don’t even go to the doctor that often! Health coverage (“Krankenkasse”) is paid out of your paycheck already, but you’ll need to sign up with a provider. The most common public providers are Techniker Krankenkasse, AOK : Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse, BKK: Betriebskrankenkasse, IKK : Innungskrankenkasse, LKK, and : Landwirtschaftliche Krankenkasse. You can also opt for private insurance, if your salary is large enough. In Germany, you’re allowed to three days off without needing a note from a doctor—any longer than that, and you’ll have to show your employer a reason. What I’ve found most eye-opening is the German approach to burnout. This work-focused culture takes burnout seriously, and if you need time off to recoup from an intense project or immense stress, it’s surprisingly easy to get a week or two off from the doctor without it being an issue with your boss.
Work hard, play hard
Corporate events are taken pretty seriously at most of the German companies I’ve been exposed to. That means legit seasonal events with educational/training aspects, plenty of time for socializing (ahem, networking), and letting loose. Take the time to get to know your coworkers, and participate in the events, even if you feel awkward or if there’s a language gap. It goes a long way to making the transition easier.
Working abroad is always an adventure, but I truly believe that it will only help your career—no matter what position you take. Read my post on how to find a job abroad here!